4 May 2017
New Zealand’s iconic free kindergarten is under threat of extinction.
Parents and early childhood experts are calling for the government to put the “free” back into kindergarten and ensure kindergarten associations do not alter features consistent with the high quality model of education for children that kindergarten has developed.
Meanwhile the Government announced yesterday that there would be $6 million in the Budget to upskill up to 1,920 early childcare and education staff in lower socio-economic areas to help them know how to improve children’s literacy and communication skills and more specialised support for around 7,600 children with the highest needs.
ChildForum chief executive Dr Sarah Alexander says that this is welcome but is almost bottom of the cliff funding and the Government should be looking at putting the kindergarten system back on track as a completely free of fees service to families to provide a choice of sessional education with adequate funding for all-qualified teachers prior to children starting school.
Heretaunga Kindergarten Association in the Hawke’s Bay is among the latest associations to consider further changes to the way it offers kindergarten services to local families. Auckland Kindergarten Association also recently announced that it was considering a serious restructure including scrapping term breaks and extending the 6 hour day attendance for children at many of its kindergartens to 7 hours.
The moves come as kindergarten associations chase more revenue by increasing hours and compete against the growth of for-profit early childhood centres.
Dr Alexander says the moves run the risk of erasing the free kindergarten model that has benefitted many Kiwi families over the past decades.
The special status of kindergartens within the education system is becoming more at risk she says, including the possibility that the Government would seek to remove them from the State Sector Act, thereby removing protections for teachers. A National Government has done this once before but there was enough support for Labour to reverse the exclusion of kindergartens and kindergarten teachers.
Dr Alexander says: “Almost no kindergartens now meet the definition of being a free kindergarten as society generally understands it – children are attending for more than 4 hours a day, many charge fees and are managed as part of larger business entities with little or no community control.”
“It would be fair for anyone to question why kindergartens should continue to be regarded any differently from the rest of the early childhood sector in funding and in public policy when kindergarten is losing its unique identity and is moving more toward a commercial model of childcare”, she added.
In 2005 kindergarten teachers went on strike in unprecedented numbers throughout the country. Concerns included employers not seeing the need for teachers (and children) to continue having term breaks like their school colleagues and for teachers to retain non-contact time to engage in essential tasks such as planning, working with families, and professional development.
Dr Alexander says kindergarten teachers may not all be able to speak up now, but there are many parents who would be behind them and want a focus on kindergartens as being “for children” to remain the top priority and key purpose of kindergartens.
On Friday 5th May 2017 a community meeting organised by parents in the Hawke’s Bay region will be held to gather support and tell NZ politicians and kindergarten associations to act to preserve the proven and high-quality model of early childhood education.
Co-organiser Jennifer James would like to see the Government look at how its policies have impacted on kindergartens and act to preserve the choice of the free kindergarten for children and families.
“Public kindergarten is under grave threat. This is about preserving it as a national treasure and as a choice of high-quality early childhood education for our children,” says Mrs James.
The parents also want to save their kindergartens from further restructuring that they feel they have little input into and no say over.
“We are all very concerned about the Heretaunga Kindergarten Association restructuring proposal in our kindies and the effect this will have on the quality of education our children will receive”, added Mrs James.
Kate and Simon Watt's daughter Charlotte, attends a kindergarten in Havelock North. They chose kindergarten because they liked what it offered for their daughter and its model of education. That choice will be taken away when it is restructured.
“Children attending 30 hours a week is daycare and it is not a preschool choice we currently want for our daughter. She loves her kindy, and is so excited when she gets to go. However all of this learning and excitement is tiring, she needs her down time to be able to consolidate, and she also needs to keep on being exposed to her world outside of kindergarten. What she is getting at the moment could not be more perfect for her, however as good as kindergarten is extended hours would not be to her benefit, she is too young for those hours”, says Mrs Watt
“Our kindergarten is holding its own financially very well and the proposed changes are against what we know to be best for children and the quality of education teachers can provide to them”, Mrs Watt added.